The not too distant future. The coastline is choked with corpses and nine-tenths of the island on which our main city’s based is given over to a gigantic graveyard. A plague of mysterious organ failures looked set to wipe out the human race, until the company Geneco invented a quick, foolproof way of transplanting organs. Almost everyone in this society is now in heavy debt, with surgery being pushed as the solution to all life’s ills, and all money flowing towards GeneCo. Default on your payments, and the Repo Man will come to take back the organs you can no longer pay for.
That’s the setting for Repo: the Genetic Opera, a rock opera that was made into a movie in 2008. The plot has several strands, which is honestly part of the problem with the film. There’s Rotti Largo, the CEO of GeneCo, who is a cheerfully unrepentant murderer and torturer and sends his Repo Men out to butcher those who owe him money. He killed a lady because she left him for another man. There’s the other man, Nathan, who used to be a doctor but fell apart after his wife died, and now works as a Repo Man. He keeps his sixteen-year-old daughter prisoner in a room of their house, claiming she has a ‘blood disease’. There’s Blind Mag, a singer with GeneCo eyes who’s hoping to escape her contract. And there are a small host of minor characters, of whom the least annoying is probably the Graverobber, played cool and sexy by one of the creators of the musical, Terence Zdunich. He extracts a substance from dead bodies that acts as the perfect anaesthetic, enabling the surgery addiction of the rest of the populace. So he’s a drug pusher, basically, but a cool and sexy one.
The girl, Shilo, wants freedom and a normal life and to exchange words with someone other than her dad. Nathan is getting tired of murder, and Rotti is dying, trying to decide whom he should bequeath GeneCo – and thus, the world – to after he goes. His three children are collectively the biggest issue with this movie. Paris Hilton actually does a decent job with surgery addict Amber Sweet, but the boys are both dreadful, overplayed and shallow as puddles.
The rest of the cast do a pretty good job, on the whole. Alexa Vega doesn’t really have a rock voice, but she snarls out a few good tunes and fits in well with heavyweights Anthony Head and Paul Sorvino. Zdunich is a lot of fun to watch. The weaknesses of this film are mostly to do with story. It feels as if a lot was left on the cutting room floor. Moments of reaction that aren’t explained, fuzzy motivations – it just doesn’t quite convince.
Having said that, for an audience that likes musicals in general and rock in particular, there’s a lot of fun to be had here. Sarah Brightman gives a remarkable turn as the blind singer and the setting is at least original, the visual style of the movie striking, if sometimes a little messy. And though the film that has no compunction about showing off scantily-clad babes heaving and panting at the least provocation, the themes of its story seem to be, at least in part, about the women of the film shrugging off the expectations and assumptions of their paternalistic caregivers to break free, in their own way. That alone is refreshing.
I actually adore this film, but my goodness, I’d be picky about whom I showed it to. A lot of people will bounce right off.